climate change

Copenhagen – how to get a deal next time

A lot of words have been written about the Copenhagen summit, and the pace hasn’t slowed since the close of the meetings. Some blame China for its intransigence. Others blame the US, hamstrung by the Senate. The EU was so weak it wasn’t invited into the room when the final draft was written, so we’re hardly blameless either. Ultimately, there’s little point in this game. Scapegoating anyone, especially a major power, only makes it harder to resume talks – as Obama found when he did precisely that in his conference address.

Rather, what if the problem is with the process itself? The writers of Global Dashboard have run a series over the past weeks, outlining various ways that Copenhagen might fail, and why. Their ‘Copenfailure’ scenarios have more or less played out as they expected, and their post game analysis is interesting. They note that the world leaders did a lot better than the teams of negotiators, which suggests that having your leaders turn up just for the last day is something we should reconsider. The whole conference is too long, but they need to be involved much earlier, and heads of state could certainly stretch to three or four days and make an agreement much more likely.

The decision-making process also needs to be reviewed. Consensus agreements are a noble ideal, but the principle should be abandoned if all it ever yields is pathetic compromise. A deal on climate change is too important to be watered down that way. Surely it’s possible to produce, to borrow a somewhat tainted phrase, a ‘coalition of the willing’? If the conference could agree a framework, countries could sign up on the spot, and the diplomacy to bring other countries around could continue after the event. At the moment, any country can throw its toys out of the pram and derail the whole deal. If they knew that a deal could not be stopped, they would have to either cooperate or see themselves marginalised, and that should be enough to bring them in line.

That’s two things that need to change. I’m confident that they can, because we’ve seen some much needed changes already. For example, developing countries have been represented and have shown their power at Copenhagen, where they have normally had a much lower profile. Part of that has been representation – not so long ago African countries might only be able to send a handful of delegates, or sometimes just one. With dozens of simultaneous meetings, and huge amounts of text to read (often in a foreign language, because all negotiating is in English), there was no genuine voice. I haven’t been able to find a list of delegation sizes, but there is a much greater awareness of these inequalities, and funding is much more readily available for developing country delegations. It is still a problem, but it’s better than it was.

We’ve also seen changes in the way bargaining happens, with countries more likely to debate as a group. This is good to see, because while it’s important that every country is represented, it’s a whole lot easier to debate in smaller numbers. The G77’s role in Copenhagen was one of the success stories in my opinion, thanks to some strong leadership. A number of other groups have formed, the group of small island states being one of the more notable, and this makes negotiation easier. In future conferences, I’d like to see this go a little further and break down some of the divides that persist, like the one between developing and developed countries.

In short, let’s not beat ourselves up about Copenhagen, but learn the lessons and do better next time: more participation from world leaders, stronger alliances, and a refusal to be held to ransom by non-cooperative countries.

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